Brewed illicitly by generations of villagers in ex-Soviet Belarus, a legal version of the country’s notoriously fiery samogon moonshine (known as changaa in Kenya) has now gone into mass production.
Traditionally drunk with pickles and pig fat, the makers promise the new liquor will have the drink’s authentic kick and taste.
But they insist it comes without the risk of blindness or even death that can sometimes be the by-product of a badly brewed batch of bootleg alcohol.
The new moonshine brand — brought out by the Slonimsky distillery last week — boasts in its advertising that it “mildly relaxes, while keeping your head clear.”
“We have old traditions of this drink. The way people used to make it in rural areas, it had a soft, harmonious taste. It didn’t give you a headache,” said Mikhail Akulik, the head of the distillery.
“If you drank it on a reasonable scale, it had a positive pick-me-up effect,” he said.
Brewing moonshine at home is illegal in tightly controlled Belarus and up to now it has only been legally produced on a small scale in some open-air folk museums which sell bottles as souvenirs.
The new moonshine is made from rye and a wheat-and-rye hybrid called triticale, widely grown in Belarus. It is distilled in a similar way to whisky or cognac.
The drink is not as thoroughly filtered of impurities as vodka, and contains residues which the makers say give it a distinctive taste.
– ‘Grandfather’s moonshine’ –
One of the new brands of moonshine is called “Grandfather’s Moonshine” and is 42 percent alcohol, while the other is called “Fierce” and is 47 percent alcohol. It sells for $8.50 a litre — a premium price compared with vodka, which retails for between $4 and $5.
The first batches went on sale in duty free stores, the makers say. They are also exporting the drink to neighbouring crisis-hit Ukraine.
To turn the traditional brew into a profitable business they say they invested around $340,000 in creating the new moonshine line, which is made in copper stills. So far, the distillery is making 20,000 bottles per month but could hike production to 60,000.
Peasants living in Belarus have made moonshine for centuries. The Russian Empire made it illegal to brew strong spirits at home and the ban continued under the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet rule of strongman President Alexander Lukashenko.
The production of moonshine peaked in the economic turbulence of the 1990s when many switched to home-brewed hooch to save money.
Moonshine was often brewed in woodland, so that if police found a still, they could not identify who was responsible.